I happened to be downtown onSt. Patrick's Dayand saw roving bands of kids, mostly black, bunching up on street corners. When approached by a group of cops, they would squeal in delight and run off to another corner, only to repeat the ritual a few minutes later. The rules of the game seemed to be well established and clearly understood by both sides.

The kids seemed to be having a ball. The Inner Harbor became an ad hoc rec center for games of "hide and seek" and "tag" between cops and kids. It might not be a great substitute for the real thing, but kids are inventive and imaginative. Lacking real rec centers, they will find places to play and games to enjoy.

The event exposed the myth of the two Baltimores. One a shining, clean waterfront playground for tourists kept separate by invisible walls from the other, the impoverished and oppressed neighborhoods that surround it. The clear message of the closed streets, flashing blue lights and police chase squads was simple: "Go home, you are not welcome here. Go back where you can't be seen." The kids were not listening.

Unfortunately, this message was probably more effectively received by the tourists cowering in their hotels. I suspect the kids will be back long before those traumatized visitors. No matter how shiny the waterfront, Baltimore cannot succeed as a place to visit or as a place to live until it can succeed as both.

The predictable response to this event has been to deny or minimize the event and demonize those who discuss it as race baiters or detractors. But the event was real and obvious and, viewed honestly, race has been a factor in the evolution of this city for 300 years. To deny this, or dismiss the real problems kids in this city face is dishonest and ineffective.

We need to openly discuss the problems of race, youth and the allocation of city resources if we are to address them. And we need to address them if we are to turn two dysfunctional Baltimores into one decent place to live.

Mac Nachlas, Baltimore